HHS Sec Azar: ‘Completely Incorrect and False’ to Say Trump Not Using Medicare to Lower Drug Prices

Monday on Hugh Hewitt’s syndicated radio show, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar dismissed reports claiming that President Donald Trump had dropped a campaign pledge of using Medicare to negotiate lower prices as part of his prescription drug plan.

Azar called it “completely incorrect and false,” and added that the administration was indeed “going to harness the power of Medicare to negotiate on behalf of seniors and taxpayers.”

Partial transcript as follows:

HEWITT: Now Mr. Secretary, that brings me right to the biggest criticism. There is no, I’m quoting from one of the accounts of the Friday event, there is no plan to allow Medicare to directly barter with drug companies. How do you respond to that?

AZAR: I’d say they cannot, they are not listening, and they are not reading, because what we are doing is more sweeping than anybody’s ever proposed before. We are enhancing the powers of the retail prescription drug program, what’s called Part D. We are unshackling these middlemen, these Part D plans, that negotiate on our behalf. We are unshackling them to go after big Pharma and finally get deep discounts in parts of the program that had been walled off, drugs that had been held in what are called these six protected classes where they didn’t have power to negotiate. We are unleashing them against Pharma on those drugs. And we are calling for negotiation on our behalf in Part B, which is the part of the drug program where any physician-administered drugs, so drugs that are like infused by a doctor’s office or a hospital, right now, for decades under Democrats and Republicans, all we have done is pay sticker price plus a markup for those drugs. And President Trump has now called for that program to be moved over to Part D, where we negotiate deep discounts, so moving from zero rebates and discounts to on average 30% kind of rebates and discounts like we have in Part D. So I don’t know what they’re talking about. This is the President doing exactly what he said. He’s going to harness the power of Medicare to negotiate on behalf of seniors and taxpayers. And he’s going to have improved bidding for these programs. I don’t get it. I don’t know what they’re talking about.

HEWITT: But you did see that, right? That was the whole headline, is oh, you might have done all these different things, but he’s not letting Medicare use the price of the market to negotiate. So are you saying that’s exactly wrong?

AZAR: That’s completely incorrect and false. What they’re talking about are cheap, political gimmicks like saying the Secretary should do the negotiating instead of these drug plans. Well, you know what? The same people who bring you $400 toilet seats in procurement are not the people to negotiate best with these big drug companies. You need these big, bad middlemen, these Part D drug plans, to hit these companies hard. I know. I was on the other side. They know what they’re doing. We have to unleash them and sick them on the drug companies. They know how to manage this, but they know how to manage it in a way that is appropriate to our patients and retains free market choice for our patients in their programs. The only, even the Democrats, even Peter Orszag, who was the Democratic head of the Congressional Budget Office, and then President Obama’s head of the Office of Management and Budget, has repeatedly made clear that having me as Secretary do the negotiation wouldn’t yield any savings to seniors or government programs unless you move to a system like Obamacare of rationing care, denying access to medicine, denying choice and moving to a European socialist style system of one size fits all.

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